Sandra Shapshay
Hunter College (CUNY)
The bleakness of Schopenhauer’s notoriously pessimistic take on the human condition is mitigated to some extent by his recognition of the possibilities of aesthetic experience and of denial of the will-to-live. However, as Schopenhauer himself acknowledges, his account of the latter appears inconsistent with his determinism, and we argue that this is no less the case with regard to his account of the former. After outlining what we take to be the basis and extent of Schopenhauer’s deterministic picture of human beings, we develop and discuss the possibility that the apparent inconsistency of this picture with his accounts of denial of the will-to-live and aesthetic experience may in fact be no more than appearance – the extent, that is, to which the latter may be construed as varieties of experience to which we are essentially passive. We argue that while there is something to this suggestion, there are aspects of Schopenhauer’s conceptions of both aesthetic experience and denial that remain in tension with his determinism. Indeed, we suggest, ultimately Schopenhauer’s deterministic picture of human beings portrays a kind of creature for whom aesthetic experience in general, let alone denial of the will, should simply be impossible. We turn next to Schopenhauer’s conception of the ‘moral’ or ‘transcendental’ freedom of human beings, and consider how the latter may be appealed to in explaining the possibility of aesthetic and ascetic experience in Schopenhauer’s terms. Schopenhauer’s own appeal to transcendental freedom in this context is, we argue, unpersuasive. In the end, we conclude, he leaves wholly mysterious the freedom inherent in his conceptions of aesthetic and ascetic experience
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